An interesting read from RADrabbit Eric Oliva who is a shoe fit specialist at St. Pete Running Company as well as a firefighter for the City of Seminole. Eric developed this guide to help new store employees help customers find the right shoes for their needs.
For communication to work, there must be “sender” and a “receiver.” However, if the receiver can’t translate the message or simply interprets the meanings of the words differently, then it is not effective. Just as countries around the world have developed unique languages throughout their history, sub communities within them such as social groups, career fields, and sports teams have also developed a unique way to communicate. Their methods are often characterized by using slang terms or alternate meanings for words also used in their native tongue.
Running has certainly developed its own language, but instead of explaining terms like “fartlek,” “Bonk,” or “LSD Run,” I’d like to make the shoe wall at the store seem a little less intimidating…and maybe more understandable.
First off, no single brand of shoe is better than any of the others, I assure you that each is just as capable and durable as the next. We have personally run in and researched every shoe before it makes an appearance on the wall at St. Pete Running Company. A higher price does not necessarily mean a better shoe. What is “better” for you will be determined by things like your mechanics, the fit and your goals rather than the price or color scheme. We will circle back to this later…Within each brand, you will see, generally, each a premium neutral and premium stability model, each a standard neutral and standard stability model, and a responsive lightweight model.
Premium vs. Standard: “The more expensive one must be a better shoe…right?”
Besides price, the difference between a standard model and a premium model is that the premium models are outfitted with all the latest and greatest technology that the brand has released. New features like this will often debut on their premium models and then trickle down to lower priced models in the following year's update. There is another side of this coin though; while you get all the new tech, extra attention to comfort and more cushioning, it comes along with an added weight penalty. Somebody who is running a lot of miles, just getting back into running, has previous injuries, or is trying to correct some mechanics may benefit from these features and not care about he added weight. Others might favor a standard model where the company pics and chooses which features to trickle down in order to find the right balance of effectiveness, comfort, and weight.
Neutral vs. Stability: “I don’t need a stability shoe to get arch support?”
Probably the most important sub-categories to recognize within each brand are the neutral models and the stability models. Most simply, a neutral shoe will have little to no effect on your natural stride while a stability shoe is constructed in such a way to prevent your foot/ankle from crashing inwards on your arch when you bear weight on it in stride. I say that this is the most important category to distinguish between because it has the most direct impact on the prevention or causation of several running injuries. Before digging any deeper here, it is important to note that you are not a better or worse runner for falling into either of these two categories and just because you are fitted for a stability shoe one time doesn’t mean you won’t be fitted for a neutral shoe down the line, or vice versa. Many things will affect this such as running form, body mechanics, injuries, physical traits and sometimes even the pace you are running.
A neutral runner’s foot will tend to stay relatively flat on the running surface or may roll to the outside edge which would be called underpronation, or supination. If a neutral runner who already tends to favor a supinated foot motion were to run in a stability shoe, it could push them further to the outside edge causing pain on the outside of the foot, knee, or IT band.
The opposite of underpronation is overpronation which is when ankle and foot tend to roll inwards towards the runner’s arch as they bear weight on it through their stride. Often, the outside edge of the shoe is lifted from the running surface. Each of the brands accomplish this somewhat differently, but a stability model shoe will use a more dense foam, plastic support, or a combination of the two on the arch side of the midsole in order to prevent the inward rolling of the ankle, thus keeping the runner’s foot flat on the running surface.
Remember, overpronation or underpronation does not refer to the orientation of the toes from the body (duck-footed, or pigeon-toed), but rather the relationship of the entire foot and ankle relative to the running surface. In addition, other features a runner may desire in a shoe such as arch support, level of cushioning or a wide/narrow toe box can be found in both a neutral or a stability type shoe.
Responsive & Lightweight: “What is heel-toe-drop and does it even matter?”
While it is nice to have the added protection and softer under-foot feeling of a standard or premium daily trainer, there are shoes designed to be lighter weight, feel more “springy” and facilitate a faster running pace. This level of “springiness” is called responsiveness referring to the shoe's response to your toe off and forward motion as you pick up the pace. When running faster, you don’t want to lose any of your effort sinking into the enjoyable cushioning of your daily trainer so these shoes react any effort you exert maximizing rebound and forward motion. This translates to less required effort to go faster! It is a good idea to own this type of shoe as a second shoe rotated into your training for speedwork, tempo runs and race day.
These responsive, lightweight models may also be referred to as a performance or up-tempo running shoe. Same as stability features, what makes a shoe more responsive is slightly different across the brands, but in general, there is a lesser amount of foam between your foot and the ground, a different, more firm or springy foam is used instead. Manufactures can also achieve a snappier feeling by cutting the flex grooves on the bottom shallower or utilizing a polymer insert as part of the midsole. While some are built on a platform made to feel familiar to a daily trainer, most will have a heel-toe-drop 1/3 to 1/2 that of your daily trainer. Heel-toe-drop (or “drop”) is measured in millimeters and describes the difference in elevation from the ground between your heel and forefoot. For example, if you stood barefoot, they would both be equal in elevation from the ground and measured as a 0mm drop. In most cases, a daily trainer will range between 10-12mm and a responsive lightweight model will range between 4-6mm. A lower drop shoe will be lighter and can facilitate better running form, but a higher drop shoe will protect those who have a history of chronic calf tightness, achilles injuries or even plantar fasciitis.
How do I know which shoe I need?
At St. Pete Running Company we use a unique process called StrideSmart to find the shoe with perfect fit for you on an individual, on a case-by-case basis. Just through conversation we will key in on information you provide regarding your medical history, past running accomplishments, current training and future goals to kickstart the fit process. You then will have the opportunity to see yourself, in slow-motion video, perform a few movements on the store floor and run/walk on a treadmill from multiple angles. Together, we will review this to offer advice on running form and to identify muscle imbalances, tightness or pronation. The combination of our conversation and what we see in the video translates to that overwhelming shoe wall being reduced to a handful of models matched perfectly to you. The last step is trying them on, choosing the best fit and then accomplishing your goals!